Marxs Theory Of Alienation Essays

Marx's Theory Of Alienation Essay

Marx's theory of alienation has to do with the separation of things that logically belong together. According to Marx, alienation is a universal result of capitalism. Marx's theory of alienation is based upon his observation that, within the capitalist mode of production, workers consistently lose determination of their lives and fates by being deprived of the right to envision themselves as the administrator of their actions. Workers become autonomous, self-realized people, but are lead and diverted into goals and activities set down by those who have power. Alienation in capitalist societies takes place because the worker can only express this basic social aspect of individuality through a production system that is not communally, but privately owned (Marx, 2007).
When applying Marx’s theory of alienation to the current issue of income inequality in the global world one can see how it is possible that capitalism has led to the issues at hand. Although not a new phenomenon, globalization is on the rise, and with that, the concentration of authority among few multinationals. By the early 1990’s, the world market share of the top five companies in each industry amounted to almost seventy percent for consumer durables and fifty percent for automotive, airline, aerospace, electrical, electronic and steel industries. During this time world economic output traded between countries rose from around nine percent in 1965 to nineteen percent in 1992. Nevertheless, seventy percent of world trade is controlled by around five hundred corporations. A major concern when dealing with globalization in general, is the pressure that this phenomenon puts on nations to alter their customs, norms, and social values (Liard-Muriente, 2005).
The argument that globalization income inequality rests on the idea that the labor/capital balance of power is a key determinant of income inequality. A lot of people take for granted the notion that labor strength reduces inequality. Cross-national work shows that globalization weakens labor by creating a global labor pool. Regional integration and globalization often are joined in academic and popular discussion because both entail the strengthening of economic, political, cultural, and social flows that cross national boundaries. There are three key distinctions between these regional integration and globalization. First, regional integration is geographically bound. Globalization is frequently defined as the strengthening of cross-border flows, and the borders crossed are any national borders. Regional integration also involves the strengthening of international interaction within bounded regions. The geographical boundaries of regional integration is pertinent to the effect of economic integration on income inequality because political institutions and human capital stocks should be more comparable within than between regions, creating more powerful market competition within than between regions (Beckfield,...

Loading: Checking Spelling

0%

Read more

Marx's Idea of Alienation in Productive Activity

2780 words - 11 pages Marx's Idea of Alienation in Productive Activity (1) Marx explained that alienation is about the loss of human powers in the society and alienation separates human from his natural word, activities and makes man lose control over his labor activity. Marx alienation from productive activity emerged when human are barred by alienation from realizing their potentials and creativities, this was achieved under capitalism by...

Karl Marx's Theory of Surplus Labour

1369 words - 5 pages Karl Marx's Theory of Surplus Labour For Marx surplus labour is the extra labour produced by a worker for his employer, to be put towards capital accumulation. The worker must do this work to keep his job but otherwise gains nothing by it. By helping the accumulation of capital he contributes to the cycle of mechanization and division of labour, which allow for fewer workers to do more work, thus adding to the competition between workers,...

Can Marx's Theory of History Be Truly Scientific?

2959 words - 12 pages Karl Marx is one of the most influential figures in history. Since his death and the widespread distribution of his works, his legacy has affected almost everybody alive on the planet today. He has had a huge influence on the arts: Literature, art, theatre, film and even music. Peter Singer, in his book about Marx likened his impact on the world to that of Jesus or Mohammed. His biggest influence, however, has been on the world of politics. One...

Karl Marx's Contribution to Labor Theory of Value

1263 words - 5 pages Contrary to popular belief, the origin of the Labor Theory of Value (LTV), which states that the value of a commodity is proportional to the amount of labor consumed to produce it, is not attributable to Karl Marx. While this may be true, the LTV is most familiar to economists as the cornerstone of Marx’s argument against capitalism in Capital. In studying Marxism, it is important to understand the degree to which Marx expounded upon the...

Karl Marx and Capitalist Alienation

1874 words - 7 pages The concept of alienation plays a significant role in Marx's early political writing, especially in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1848, but it is rarely mentioned in his later works. This implies that while Marx found alienation useful in investigating certain basic aspects of the development of capitalist society, it is less useful in putting forward the predictions of the collapse of capitalism. The aim of this essay is to...

Marx's Alienated Labor

1322 words - 5 pages PHIL 184 Essay #2 11/11/14 PHIL 184 Essay #2; Question 2 11/11/14 Marx's Alienated LaborMarx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 outlines the problem of...

Early and Later Writings of Karl Marx. Compares the classical works of Karl Marx and looks at some of his most well known theories. Includes works cited.

2110 words - 8 pages The Early and Later Writings of Karl MarxClassical Marxism has had an influence in a number of areas. One may first think of economics, but Karl Marx's theories have also affected ideas about history, society, ideology, culture, and politics, just to name a few. From his early writings in liberal newspapers to his later ones such as Capital, Marx remained true to his revolutionary ideas and Communist thinking. As most writers, his style...

Does History Have an End?

1325 words - 5 pages The Communist Manifesto was published just before the European Revolutions of 1848. It was meant as a statement of purpose for Marx's newly formed Communist League and its straightforward, even prophetic, tone is that of a man confidently explaining to a confused world the reasons for a tumult which had not yet begun. Why is he so sure of himself? The answer to this depends on Marx's deterministic view of history. Marx inherited from his...

Karl Marx

866 words - 3 pages Karl Marx was the creator of Marxism and a new type of economy and government. His ideas were appealing to the working class people and emphasized the community rather than the individual. His theories spawned communism and his ideas still remain in effect in some modern day countries.      Marx’s ideas originate from his experiences in Europe and his collaboration with Frederich Engels. In addition, Marx's work seems to...

Evaluate the usefulness of the theories of class of Marx for an understanding of patterns of inequality in modern industrialised societies.

1167 words - 5 pages Evaluate the usefulness of the theories of class of Marx for an understanding of patterns of inequality in modern industrialised societies.The cornerstone of Marx's class theory is the premise that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles".He perceived society as fundamentally divided...

Anomie and Alienation: Catalysts for Society's Disintegration by PJ

1436 words - 6 pages Society's evolution into a modern arena brought on numerous changes. Emile Durkheim believed that this shift to modernity triggered a breakdown in social solidarity. Anomie, or normlessness, was a product of this rapid change and breakdown. He spoke of this state of anomie leading to the individual succumbing to a lack of social rules and regulations...

Author: Dan Lowe
Category: Social and Political Philosophy
Word Count: 1000

Karl Marx’s thought is wide-ranging and has had a massive influence in, especially, philosophy and sociology. Marx is best known for his two unsparing critiques of capitalism. The first of these critiques maintains that capitalism is essentially alienating. The second of these critiques maintains that capitalism is essentially exploitative.1 This essay focuses specifically on Marx’s theory of alienation, which rests on Marx’s specific claims about both economics and human nature.

Marx’s Analysis of Capitalism

For Marx, the idea of the means of production is a crucial economic category. The means of production include nearly everything needed to produce commodities, including natural resources, factories, and machinery. The key element not included as part of the means of production is labor.2 In a capitalist economy, as opposed to a communist or socialist economy, the means of production are privately owned, as when a businessperson owns a factory. As a result, members of the capitalist economy find themselves divided into two distinct classes: those who own the means of production (the capitalist class3 or bourgeoisie) and those workers who do not (the proletariat).

Marx’s Concept of Species-Being

For Marx, whether capitalism and its class-division is a suitable arrangement for human beings depends on human nature. Because humans are biological beings, and not merely free-floating immaterial minds, we, like all other biological beings, must interact with and transform the natural world in order to survive.4 But what distinguishes us from all other animals, like bees, spiders, or beavers, which all transform the world based on instinct, is that we transform the world consciously and freely.5 Thus, the essence of a human being – what Marx calls our species-being – is to consciously and freely transform the world in order to meet our needs. Like many other philosophers, Marx believes that excellently doing what makes us distinctively human is the true source of fulfillment.

Alienation in Capitalist Society

We can now make clear Marx’s claim that capitalism is alienating. The general idea of alienation is simple: Something is alienating when what is (or should be) familiar and connected comes to seem foreign or disconnected. Because our species-being is our essence as human beings, it should be something that is familiar. To the extent that we are unable to act in accordance with our species-being, we become disconnected from our own nature. So if work in a capitalist society inhibits the realization of our species-being, then work is to that extent alienating.6 And since we are being alienated from our own nature, alienation is not merely a subjective feeling, but is about an objective reality.

So how are workers alienated from their species-being under capitalism? Marx distinguishes three specific ways.7

  1.  Workers are alienated from other human beings. In a capitalist economy, workers must compete with each other for jobs and raises. But just as competition between businesses brings down the price of commodities, competition between workers brings down wages. And so it is not the proletariat who benefits from this competition, but capitalists. This is not only materially damaging to workers, it estranges them from each other. Humans are free beings and are able to not only transform the world themselves, but to cooperate in order to transform the world in more sophisticated and helpful ways. As such, they should see each other as allies, especially in the face of a capitalist class who seeks to undermine worker solidarity for its own benefit. But under capitalism workers see each other as opposing competition.
  1.  Workers are alienated from the products of their labor. Capitalists need not do any labor themselves – simply by owning the means of production, they control the profit of the firm they own, and are enriched by it. But they can only make profit by selling commodities, which are entirely produced by workers.8 Thus, the products of the worker’s labor strengthen the capitalists, whose interests are opposed to that of the proletariat. Workers do this as laborers, but also as consumers: Whenever laborers buy commodities from capitalists, that also strengthens the position of the capitalists. This again stands in opposition to the workers’ species-being. Humans produce in response to our needs; but for the proletariat at least, strengthening the capitalist class is surely not one of those needs.
  1.  Workers are alienated from the act of labor. Because capitalists own the firms that employ workers, it is they, not the workers, who decide what commodities are made, how they are made, and in what working conditions they are made. As a result, work is often dreary, repetitive, and even dangerous. Such work may be suitable for machines, or beings without the ability to consciously and freely decide how they want to work, but it is not suitable for human beings. Enduring this for an extended period of time means that one can only look for fulfillment outside of one’s work; while “the activity of working, which is potentially the source of human self-definition and human freedom, is … degraded to a necessity for staying alive.”9 As Marx puts it in a famous passage:

[I]n his work, therefore, he [the laborer10] does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside of work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home.11

If Marx is right about all of this, then contemporary complaints about the degrading nature of work are not hyperbole. Insofar as capitalism prevents us from realizing our own species-being, it is, quite literally, dehumanizing.

Conclusion

One may find great inspiration in the idea that true fulfillment can come from creative and meaningful work. Yet most people’s actual experience of work in capitalist economies is characterized by tedium, apathy, and exhaustion. Marx’s theory of alienation provides a conceptual framework for understanding the nature and cause of these experiences, and assures us that these subjective experiences are about an objective reality – and, crucially, a reality we can change.

Notes

1In general, Marx’s theory of alienation belongs to his earlier philosophy (the chapter “Estranged Labor” in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, an unfinished work that was unpublished at the time of his death), and his theory of exploitation belongs to his later philosophy (in Capital). It is a matter of scholarly debate to what extent this progression in his thinking represented a substantive change in his position, or merely a shift in emphasis.

2To keep things simple, I follow Marx in speaking of business being directed primarily at producing commodities. Of course, Marx was writing long before the development of an extensive service sector characteristic of late capitalism. Nevertheless, by tweaking some of the language, his general analysis can also be applied to service industries in capitalist economies.

3In classical political economy, a “capitalist” is someone who owns the means of production–not merely someone who is in favor of capitalism.

4This emphasis on biological embodiment distinguishes the Marxist conception of human nature from those which count rationality as the distinguishing feature of human beings — a feature which would equally apply to immaterial minds.

5Or as Marx puts it, in quasi-Hegelian language, “Conscious life-activity directly distinguishes man from animal life-activity. It is just because of this that he is a species being.” Karl Marx, “Estranged Labor,” in The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. Tucker), p. 76.

6Here we are focusing on whether workers – the proletariat – are alienated under capitalism. But Marx believes that the bourgeoisie experiences its own form of alienation: see Marx’s “Alienation and Social Classes” in The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. Tucker).

7Marx is usually interpreted as presenting four distinct ways in which workers are alienated under capitalism (see, e.g., Jonathan Wolff’s “Karl Marx,” section 2.3.), and there’s strong support for that within Marx’s own writing. When looked at in that way, the fourth form of alienation just is alienation from one’s species-being. But it is more perspicuous to think of the three ways as constituting workers’ alienation from their species-being, rather than being kinds of alienation in addition to alienation from species-being. I’m grateful to Jason Wyckoff for pointing out the heterodoxy of my interpretation.

8Here we see the seeds of the second critique of capitalism that Marx would develop later: that it is exploitative.

9Richard Schmitt, Introduction to Marx and Engels: A Critical Reconstruction, p. 154.

10Marx almost always uses the masculine pronoun to refer to workers. For a discussion of applying Marx’s conceptual framework to women’s labor, both paid and unpaid, see Alison M. Jaggar’s Feminist Politics and Human Nature, especially chapters 4, 6, 8, and 10.

11Karl Marx, “Estranged Labor,” in The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. Tucker), p. 74.

References

Jaggar, Alison M. Feminist Politics and Human Nature. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1983.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader (ed. Robert C. Tucker). Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.

Schmitt, Richard. Introduction to Marx and Engels: A Critical Reconstruction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.  

Wolff, Jonathan. “Karl Marx.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. 2010.

About the Author

Dan Lowe is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He holds a BA from The Evergreen State College and has a graduate certificate in Women and Gender Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He works on ethics broadly construed, political philosophy, and feminist philosophy. His current research is in naturalized moral epistemology and philosophical methodology in general.

Like this:

LikeLoading...

by 1000wordphilosophy

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “Marxs Theory Of Alienation Essays”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *